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Silicon Valley's Little Known Dirty, Polluting Secret
J. Mijin Cha on January 8, 2007 - 3:58pm
There is a little talked about dirty side to Silicon Valley. Production of computer parts and high-tech manufacturing leaves beyond liquid waste in the form of solvents, inks, acids and other dangerous chemicals. These chemicals are then sent to industrial recycling facilities, such as Romic Environmental Technologies' hazardous waste plant in East Palo Alto, CA. Not surprisingly, instead of being placed in exclusive communities, these recycling facilities are overwhelmingly placed in communities of color. The last census indicates that East Palo Alto is comprised of 97 percent people of color. Environmental racism rears its ugly head once again. Residents of East Palo Alto have been fighting the plant for the past 15 years claiming that the company has been polluting their community with toxic waste. And they have a pretty strong claim. Romic was hit with 28 violations from 1999 to 2004 from the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) resulting in a settlement of $849,500 in penalties. CalOSHA (California Occupational Safety and Health Administration) discovered 57 violations at the plant from 1988 to 2004, totaling $163,360 in fines. So what is the plant doing still operating? Romic's DTSC permit expired in 1991 and it has been operating with a provisional permit for the last 11 years. On top of that, only after years of pressure from community organizations has the DTSC begun to finalize the environmental impact report determining the health and environmental impact of the plant to the surrounding community. Only after reviewing the report will DTSC determine whether or not to approve Romic's operating permit. Fighting the plant is a new wave of activists- Youth United for Community Action (YUCA). The East Palo Alto environmental justice organization is a group of committed teenagers and young adults determined to fight the plant's operation and pollution. Instead of cyber-strolling on MySpace, YUCA members spend their evening sifting through state regulatory reports and even conducted their own health survey of East Palo Alto residents. Their survey found that one out of every four 13- to-21 year olds have asthma and the cancer rates for all ages were well above the rest of the county. It is time for states to tighten their regulatory controls and stop plants like the Romic facility from spewing poison into the air. Over 80 health and safety code violations is more than enough evidence that Romic is poisioning the local community. And you have to wonder, if the plant was located in Bel Air, would it still be operating?